Wednesday 6 May 2015

"The tragedy of the commons" our own example

Occasional goat herding on the common
Each of the Crofters in Ormsaigbeg township has a 1/23 rd share of the 550 ha common grazing. One share gives a entitlement to keep 12 sheep and 2 cows on the common. As far as I know this has been the case for 150 years.

Of the 23 shareholders only six are active Crofters and only two of these regularly have stock on the common. I only use it occasionally for the goats. The boundary fence is almost derelict and has been cut in one place.  We think there are about 200 sheep up there.

Think of it like this, if I had unrestricted access to the common, I could, in my own self interest put as many sheep as possible up there. My neighbours, being rational and self interested could do the same.  The result: overgrazing, animal welfare problems and destruction of the vegetation.

There is an economic theory ," The Tragedy of the Commons" , it predicts that if individuals are given unlimited access to a common resource; they will rationally maximise their use of that resource in their own self interest. Their action will not be in the interests of the community and the resource will be degraded or destroyed. Internationally there are some startling examples of this in practice.

The destruction of the cod fishery off the Grand Banks is a good example. Open access to fishing boats of all nations, new technology and Canadian Government encouragement of their own fishermen after an extension of the territorial limits led to the complete destruction of cod stocks in the 90s. Open access to the atmosphere as a "sink" for carbon dioxide has led to massive pollution and climate change. The theory concludes that solution lies in  either community ownership and regulation or private ownership. If community owned the regulations must be enforced.

Peer pressure in an isolated, tightly knit community worked in the past to regulate the grazing in the interests of all but it is breaking down.

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